BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's second-largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), on Friday freed two German men that the rebels had held since November, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
The two were being transferred by helicopter from a remote jungle location to a nearby airport in northeast Norte de Santander province, and handed over to the German embassy and representatives of Colombia's government, according to the ICRC.
The hostages had been held since November.
The rebels said in early February they had captured the two men in Catatumbo, near the border with Venezuela, and identified them as Uwe Breuer and Gunther Otto Breuer.
The ELN said initially they considered the two to be intelligence agents because they could not explain why they were in the area, but the German government said they were pensioners traveling in a four-wheel drive through South America.
Late last month, Colombia's government authorized a committee of civilians and Red Cross officials to travel to the area to talk to the guerrillas.
The ELN, founded in the 1960s by radical Catholic priests inspired by the Cuban revolution, was close to disappearing in the 1970s but regained strength.
By 2002 it had as many as 5,000 fighters, financed by "war taxes" it extracted from landowners and oil companies, and is now believed to have about 3,000 fighters.
Security sources say the kidnappings may have been part of an effort by the ELN to press the government to include them in peace talks underway in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest rebel group.
The ELN has previously sought peace, holding talks in Cuba and Venezuela between 2002 and 2007. Experts say there was a lack of will on both sides to agree a final peace plan.
(Reporting by Jack Kimball; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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